In this week’s edition of our weekly 2016/2017 Season Review, we look at the miserable month of November as a season to forget continued.
As the month of November 2016 began, Slaven Bilic and his first-team were reflecting on the best month of the season so far, but the upturn in form would turn out to be very short-lived.
The month started with a chance to recover from the 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park at the back end of October, in the form of a London Stadium fixture against Stoke City. The confidence that was drawn from the three consecutive victories over Crystal Palace, Sunderland, and Chelsea in the previous month was firmly quashed by the defeat to Ronald Koeman’s men. However, Many Hammers fans were feeling optimistic ahead of the must-win clash, believing that challenging for Europa League in a repeat of the 2015/2016 Premier League campaign was still possible.
It was to be a characteristically slow start to the home tie, as we struggled to break down Mark Hughes’s defensive wall. The closest we came to a first-half opener was through a Michail Antonio header which was well saved by Potters keeper Lee Grant. The second period started with a bang as Dimitri Payet’s cross collided with the head of both Michail Antonio and Glen Whelan to beat Grant at the near post. The breakthrough went down as an own-goal, but it didn’t matter to the Hammers faithful as we took the lead on 65 minutes. However, the slender advantage wouldn’t last long as all accusing fingers were pointed at Adrian for the blemish. The Spanish keeper charged off his line to claim a long ball and was beaten to it by Ireland international Jonathan Walters, the ball then fell to Bojan Krkic who calmly stroked the ball home into the empty net. The game finished on level terms, much to the frustration of The London Stadium crowd. It had been another very unflattering home performance and another day to forget at our new home, but there was to be more to come.
The second week of November brought the third international break of the season, as England overcame Scotland 3-0 in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier and drew with Spain in a friendly at Wembley. Our left-back Aaron Cresswell made his Three Lions debut under Gareth Southgate in the later fixture, as late goals from Iago Aspas and Isco denied England. As the break ended and players returned from all over the world to Rush Green, attentions began to turn to the huge London derby clash at White Hart Lane.
There was to be a huge shock in the starting 11 for the huge encounter, with Irishman Darren Randolph replacing Adrian in goal after the Spaniard’s costly mistake against The Potters. However, it wasn’t an ideal first game back for the former Charlton Athletic man, in a hostile atmosphere as we played out our final game at the old White Hart Lane. It was to be us who made the faster start, with Michail Antonio notching his 6th headed Premier League goal of the season on 24 minutes. The lead would last until half-time, with Slaven Bilic’s men ending the half in the ascendency. The hosts fought back in the second period and were soon level just six minutes into it. Vincent Janssen’s effort from the left of the box was well saved by Randolph, only for the ball to fall to full debutant Harry Winks who calmly finished to bring Spurs level. However, it wouldn’t be level for long with Janssen pulling down Winston Reid inside the area and the referee Mike Dean pointing to the spot. The penalty was calmly slotted home by Manuel Lanzini who celebrated wildly in front of the travelling Hammers. We now had a nervy 21 minutes to hold out in the huge game and an agonising finish lay in wait.
The goalkeeper In Claret and Blue was to be plunged into the spotlight once again on 89 minutes, when the Republic of Ireland international failed to reach Heung Min Son’s cross, allowing Harry Kane to tap in for a late leveller. The Spurs comeback didn’t end just there and the second spot-kick of the game was awarded when Havard Nordtveit hauled down Son in added time. Kane stepped up with the opportunity to break our hearts in added time for the second time in three seasons. He made no mistake in beating Randolph to snatch his side a last-gasp winner. To add insult to injury, Reid was given his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card in the 96th minute. Many Hammers fans directed their anger at Bilic after the agony in North London, as they blamed the new-signing Nordtveit and Bilic’s team selection for the defeat.
A tough run of games would follow with a daunting trip to Old Trafford to round the Premier League action of November off. Manchester United had a fast start to the season under new boss Jose Mourinho but had only won two of their last nine heading into the fixture. It promised to be an interesting fixture at “The Theatre of Dreams” and it would be a fairy tale start. A 2nd minute Dimitri Payet free-kick was met by the returning Diafra Sakho at the near post and the ball found David De Gea’s net at pace. However, the early lead wasn’t to last with summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic latching onto a Paul Pogba lifted pass to flick a header past Darren Randolph. As the first-half ebbed on, Mourinho was sent to the stands following an angry reaction to the booking of Pogba for simulation. Looking back at the replays, the furious reaction of the United boss was understandable. Both teams would go into half-time with the scores level after Randolph saved well to deny Marcus Rashford in a one on one.
The second period would bring opportunities for both sides with Payet and Wayne Rooney going close. However, arguably the best chance of the second-half would fall to Ashley Fletcher after he received the ball in a promising position after a dazzling Michail Antonio run, but the former Red Devil could not convert from close range. The exciting encounter ended in a draw with Hammers fans left with mixed feeling as they headed home South.
The Hammers squad didn’t have far to travel for the final game of the month with another tie against The Red Devils just three days later in The EFL Cup. A place in the Semi-Finals would await the winner of the tie, but it was Manchester United who got off to the faster start this time. With just two minutes on the clock, Ibrahimovic was on hand again to capitalize on some poor Hammers defending and slot the ball past Adrian for a very early lead. Slaven Bilic’s starting 11 were rocked by the early goal, but it wouldn’t be long before we equalised.
A Dimitri Payet effort was spilled by De Gea and none other than Ashley Fletcher was there to poach home, the irony being that the 21-year-old left Old Trafford just months earlier. However, United proved to be made of sterner stuff in the second-half and were quickly back ahead when Anthony Martial rifled home a Henrik Mkhitaryan cross on 48 minutes. The new-found lead was doubled around 15 minutes later, as it was made all too easy for Martial to tap in a second from an Antonio Valencia delivery. The tie was rounded off for the hosts by another Ibrahimovic poach from an Ander Herrera assist. The loss proved to be an embarrassing display of defending, as the month of November ending in the same frustrating fashion as it started.
We would finish the torrid month just two places above the Relegation Zone, but an improvement in form along with mixed fortunes would follow in the month of December 2016.